Be young and shut up

A blog about student activism.

‘Sisterhood’ includes admitting wrongdoing sometimes

with 4 comments

Trigger warning for descriptions of rape and sexual violence

A note before I start

I’ve used personal experience in this blog post. I don’t think that my personal experience is any more valid than anyone else’s. I don’t think it’s a substitute for other forms of evidence. But I just find it useful to use examples sometimes. I hope people can respond to the theoretical content rather than presuming I’m trying to shut down debate by mentioning my own experiences. I’m genuinely not. If you think I’m lying, then fuck you, but if you think I’m wrong, that’s more than fine.

Queering the debate

Second Council House of Virgo has repeatedly asked for a queer feminist response – here is one. It’s not representative of queer feminists, though.

This is a contribution to discussions going on amongst the Glasgow left and others regarding comments that were made about what constitutes rape.

On privilege and apologising

We all do shit things sometimes, whether it’s due to our privilege, the internalisation of our own oppression, or whatever structural or other reasons.

Proper apologies – those that include an admission of doing something wrong, a genuine feeling of regret and a resolve to do better in future – are valuable and important. ‘Sticking to your guns’ or having ‘resolve’, when it would be better to admit wrongdoing and apologise, is not admirable.

I’ve done shitty things and apologised – not that I’m being self-congratulating, because not apologising would’ve been very wrong indeed.

On the issue of what defines rape

The way rape is normally spoken about is strange. I certainly had no idea up until about six months ago what constituted the legal or other definitions of rape, and I’ve since realised that I’ve been raped in those legal terms more than I thought I had.

Rape is forced sex.

How you define rape CAN be heteronormative and homophobic, because the definition of rape depends on the definition of sex.

Sex for me has nothing to do with penetration and this is fundamental.

And that’s why bourgeois courts and international law defines rape as it does – because it doesn’t count non-penetration as sex. Because of heteronormativity and heterosexism. Not because they know best.

The fact that Second Council House of Virgo has deemed the definition of what strictly constitutes rape – beyond forced sex – so important that she has continued, continued to stick to this, is pretty bizarre to me.

If someone feels like they’ve been raped, defines what happened to them as rape, and they have been forced into sex in any way, why go about telling them they weren’t raped?

Rape is not necessarily ‘worse’ than sexual assault

Who knows what people mean when they say they have been ‘sexually assaulted’? (Not that anyone should have to define it, ever, obviously, unless they want to.) I used to say I’d been ‘sexually assaulted’ when in reality I’d been forced into penetrative oral sex, which I have since found out is included in many establishment definitions of rape.

A lot of the time people think they know what you mean when you say you’ve been raped, and people react accordingly. It’s SERIOUS. So imposing strict penetration-dependent definitions on rape is actually pretty minimising, because if it’s not rape it’s not SERIOUS.

I’m incredibly uninterested in sorting out what happened to victims of sexual violence into what’s ‘worse’ or ‘more serious’ – but the way rape is perceived is intrinsic to people taking things seriously, and therefore people are allowed to (and should) have broader definitions!

Sexually predatory women

They exist. I have encountered two, as opposed to hundreds and hundreds of sexually predatory men (hence being a feminist). But they exist. They are just as bad as their men counterparts.

On ‘tone’

This argument on the Glasgow left has got more and more heated because of failure to admit wrongdoing and make amends.

Instead of addressing legitimate concerns, people were dismissed out of hand. When those people got angry they became ‘bullies’. After still nothing, they called for action to be taken, this was called ‘trashing’.

On rape apologism

When other people have tried to define what rape is along misogynistic lines that minimise women’s (and others’) ability to consent, they have rightly been called rape apologists.

The person who feels like their experiences are being marginalised and minimised is being told she is not a rape victim, when she is. I don’t know how Second Council House would define it, perhaps as sexual assault? But really, it’s just not good enough.

Trashing the sisterhood

Being a feminist is not about being nice to other women. It is, however, important to respect each other’s experiences and acknowledge them.

It’s pretty clear that Second Council House should’ve apologised long ago and tried to make up for being unthinking and offensive (unintentionally or not).


Written by CakeCakeCakeCakeCake

October 1, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. Mhairi’s argument is that rape is distinct from sexual assault because it involves penetration – and the reason penetration is specifically worse is due to a) physical injury and b) risk of pregnancy. However if someone penetrates a woman without her consent while wearing a condom, it would still be classified as rape. Likewise if a woman was drugged and the penetration was not more forceful than consensual sex. So penetration doesn’t necessarily result in pregnancy or physical injury – but it’s still regarded as rape, so rape cannot just be defied by physical violence/pregnancy risk.

    If a man was held down by a woman, and an erection forced so she could have sex with him I think that should be classified as rape – someone’s body and subdjugation are being used to gratify someone in sexual activity. Likewise if a man was to force a woman to perform oral sex on them, for the same reason above.

    Mhairi mentioned that Male Rights Activists want to change the definition of rape to include women who have sex with men against their will, where an erection is forced against their consent. MRA’s will use any issue to create a false sexism against men but I can’t see why including this in the definition of rape would act against female victims of male rapists.

    The nature of a woman on woman rape may be that in order to exploit someone else they’ll force their victim to penetrate them, not the other way round. I think it’s legitimate to say people who are victims of that have been raped, as their body has been used for someone else against their consent while they are in fear of their predicament. The same feelings of trauma, being used etc will be there. Thinking about a definition to discriminate between rape and sexual assault, I think enforced sexual activity is a better one than just leaving it at penetration.

    Mhairi is able to put her arguments together quite methodically, shes one of the people I know who is least likely to be phased by others in arguments either in real life or online. But I hope she’ll accept that saying to someone who underwent the same feelings of being used as those who were penetrated is not the same as rape, is going to be deeply offensive to that victim and that they should have a say in how the law recognises their abuse.

    Mhairi also asked for info on queer/feminist/lesbian sources of woman on woman rape – I sent her this a while ago, but I’ll repost it here –

    Andy Bowden

    October 2, 2012 at 12:59 am

  2. As I have said before I appreciate that sexual assault can be as traumatising as rape, but that rape may but does not necessarily involve additional risks of bodily trauma, injury, pregnancy and death.

    “While non-penetrative sex acts performed non-consensually can be as traumatising for the victim as penetrative, depending on the context, the vulnerability of the victim, the relationship of the perpetrator and the victim and wider social norms, there is a specificity over the act of penetration, and the risks associated with it which makes it a particular form of abuse. By glossing over that fundamental distinction, we are at risk of promoting a western centric view of rape. One which takes place within the context of sexual activity ignoring the wider context of rape as a means of control not only of individual wo/men, but of women as a gender, deviant sexualities, ethnic groups and dissenting populations.”
    Second Council House of Virgo (

    Again, in the article you conflate sex and rape. These are not necessarily linked, not all rape takes place within a sexualised context. If you redefine rape as “enforced sexual activity” as is suggested by Andy, you remove penetration done under torture which have no sexual motive, and replace it with much more amorphious acts such as groping, within the definition.

    Thank you for reposting the link, I did read it, but as it refers to rape as penetrative, then I didn’t think that it was particularly relevant.


    October 2, 2012 at 2:59 am

  3. Pretty surprised by and disappointed in Mhairi for this, I have to say.


    October 2, 2012 at 9:34 am

  4. […] Responses The only substantive response that I have been privy to is that published by Be Young, Shut Up, which takes up a number of issues.  I agree entirely that when wrongdoing is pointed out, that a […]

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